Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest post: Deborah Gray on pairing desserts and dessert wines

So often, the last course to a meal can be a neglected wine pairing. It might consist of dessert with espresso, a cheese plate or perhaps a Cognac or Port without any food accompaniment. Pairing a dessert wine with dessert is another opportunity to marry flavours and see the exponential affect this can have on the enjoyment of both. The goal is not to match them so closely that you end up swamping your mouth with sugary sweetness, neglecting the other elements of the dish and fatiguing your palate. A rule of thumb is to make the dessert wine sweeter than the actual dessert.

When my father started a vineyard at Cowra in New South Wales in 1973, he was literally breaking new ground in an area that had never seen a vine before. It was his entrepreneurial spirit that propelled him to pioneer grape growing in the region, but it was also his lack of experience that resulted in planting myriad varieties, some of which thrived, such as Chardonnay, and others turned out to have questionable suitability to the area, or at least without more individual attention to their development.

One particularly wet year, a mold called Botrytis attacked many of the different grape varieties, resulting in the loss of the reds. However, with the unintentional introduction of Botrytis in the Sauvignon Blanc block, a beautiful dessert wine emerged from the ruins. Botrytis is called “Noble Rot” in the wine world and is deliberately encouraged in some regions to produce some of the most sought after and expensive dessert wines on earth. The rarest of them all is Chateau d’Yquem Sauterne from France, the costliest white wine ever sold. My father’s Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc may not have been able to compete with Chateau d’Yquem, but it was, in the years it was accidentally produced, the most glorious example of nature’s kismet.

Without boring you with the biology of Botrytis, the essential action of this fungus is that it dehydrates the grape, resulting in very concentrated flavours of the original variety and imparting a pronounced honeyed apricot dimension. There are no detrimental affects and absolutely no sense of mold or fungus in the wine itself.

This dessert may require you to increase your aerobic exercise for the week, but is a delicious example of pairing the apricot flavours, whilst other more savoury, spicy ingredients keep it from being cloying.

Bread Pudding with Apricot Compote

9 oz. dried apricots
½ vanilla pod
Zest of ½ orange
½ cinnamon stick

5 thin slices of white bread (cut on a diagonal)
2 ¼ oz. (5 tbsp) butter, softened
3 ½ oz. (2/3 cup) sultanas
8 fl. oz (1 cup) cream
8 fl. oz (1 cup) milk
3 eggs
2 oz. (1/4 cup) sugar
1 vanilla pod
1 oz. (2 tbsp) icing (confectioners) sugar
1 oz. (2 tbsp) apricot jam
7 fl. oz clotted cream

1. At least two hours ahead, make the compote of apricots: bring 9 fl. oz (about 1 cup) water to the boil and pour over the apricots in a heat-proof bowl. Leave to stand for about 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, pour into a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool and remove the vanilla and cinnamon.

2. Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter the bread and remove the crusts. Place one layer of bread on the base of a 10”x 6”x 2 1/2” rectangular baking dish and cover with a layer of sultanas. Place the rest of the bread on top.

3. Mix the cream, milk, eggs, and sugar, and pass through a sieve. Slice the vanilla pod down the centre and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the custard mixture, (discard the pod) and pour over the bread. Allow to soak for 5 minutes.

4. Place the dish in a bain-marie (or other shallow pan only partially filled with water so that it doesn’t overflow the sides) and bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven (and bain-marie) and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

5. Preheat a hot grill (broiler). Dust the pudding with icing sugar and glaze under the grill until golden, watching carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn and rotating dish if necessary.

6. Spread the top with the apricot jam, cut into wedges and serve with a generous dollop of clotted cream and the compote of apricots. May also be served with crème anglaise.

Wine Pairing: Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc.

Many other custards or tarts, even pumpkin pie would also pair well with the wine, keeping in mind that the flavours must complement in some way and not conflict with the honey apricot of the wine. As an alternative, if the botrytis wine has a slightly dry finish (as the Cowra style did) it will even pair with something like pâté.

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